Bathe in a champagne glass. Sleep in a giant clam. Lock your lover in a ye olde dungeon, (if that’s your thing). When it comes to kitsch hotel experiences, the trompe l'oeil sky is the limit. Now more than ever, we’re jazzed at the prospect of escaping daily life, if only for a night, with a stay at a room whose number is merely "Rainforest Suite."
Alas, the world of over-the-top hotel sleuthing can feel daunting. So we consulted kitsch hotel expert Margaret Bienert, who test-runs the kitschiest hotels across the US with her husband, Corey, and airs all the deets on the couple’s Instagram and (addictive) YouTube series, “A Pretty Cool Hotel Tour.” Her pro tips? Firstly, bed bug-haunted reviews are a deal-breaker. However, "if the biggest complaints are that the towels are a little crusty and there's a stain on the carpet," she says, "I go ahead and pack my bags, but everyone is different!” Do “be mindful of what your cleanliness standards are, and read reviews if you can find them. Kitschy hotels tend to be vintage and will appear ‘outdated’ to some, which means you're going to notice more wear-and-tear than you might at a normal hotel. If you're a fan of retro decor, hopefully, that wouldn't be enough to scare you away!"
That’s the magic of kitsch hotels. They’re the ultimate mental escape! They push homespun creative design to the absolute edge, and always with an indulgent ethos that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Consider the following seven hotels — which are a sparkling blend of Bienert’s hot recs, and our own tried and true faves – as the kitschiest hotels to add to your (Covid-19-minded) travel bucket list. See you in the gladiator’s love chariot!
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Location: San Louis Obispo, California
One night starts around: $185
The Madonna Inn is so sprawling in its kitschy grandeur, it has its own freeway off-ramp in San Louis Obispo, California. "[It’s] just a dreamland of color and pattern play!" says Bienert, "The decor plus the pink champagne cake they're famous for are reason enough to plan a visit.” Each room in the Mid-Century hotel also has an unforgettable theme, from Cave Man to Love Nest; Matterhorn and, our personal favorite, "What's Left," which is a self-proclaimed "a patchwork of fabrics, carpet and wallpaper collected from other rooms to create this masterpiece." The real star of the show? That screaming pink dining room.
Book or read more reviews about Madonna Inn on Tripadvisor.
The Victorian Mansion at Los Alamos
Location: Los Alamos, California
One night starts around: $255
A charming 19th-century mansion on the outside, and totally bonkers B&B on the inside. This Los Alamos, California gem is just a 45-minute drive south of the Madonna Inn – and it also offers rooms with highly curated themes, ranging from Ancient Egyptian grandeur to a gladiator's night in heaven; French artist's attic, and pirate ship. The biggest swoon award goes to the room with the 1956 Cadillac convertible bed.
Book or read more reviews about the Victorian Mansion at Los Alamos on Tripadvisor.
Dog Bark Park Inn
Location: Cottonwood, Idaho
One night starts around: $132
Sleep in the belly of the beagle at this B&B, which is right off Highway 95 in Cottonwood, Idaho. Naturally, "responsible pets arriving with their well-behaved humans are welcome to stay with prior approval," say the proprietors, one of which is the quiet town's self-described "chainsaw artist." YOLO!
Book or read more reviews about Dog Bark Park Inn on Tripadvisor.
The Black Swan Inn
Location: Pocatello, Idaho
One night starts around: $119
"The Black Swan Inn is a classic adults-only theme hotel that is so clean and full of character," says Bienert, "It's run by a couple that does the artwork and designs the rooms themselves, and you can just tell how much work goes into each suite." There's a Romeo & Juliet suite, an Ancient Egyptian-themed oasis, and (our personal fave) an Under the Sea room with a pink shell bed. Eat your heart out, Ariel.
Book or read more reviews about the Black Swan Inn on Tripadvisor.
Wing's Castle B&B
Location: Millbrook, NY
One night starts around: $200
The story of Wing's Castle actually really sweet. The hodge-podge castle was built in the 1970s by ultimate hippie dad Peter J. Wing in Millbrook, New York, out of reclaimed materials for his family. It also became a home for retired showbiz elephants, boasts a mote and a mini-Stonehenge. There's a variety of ye olde rooms for your pleasure, or you can book an entire storybook cottage that sleeps up to five guests.
Book or read more reviews about Wing's Castle on Tripadvisor.
Cove Haven Resort
Location: Lakeville, PA
One night starts around: $206
Consider it the East Coast answer to Madonna Inn, with an extra splash of amore. "Cove Haven Resorts are the pinnacle of kitschy romance-themed hotels," says Bienert, "They're delightfully retro but not so outdated that I don't feel comfortable sleeping there. They're 3 different resorts just a couple hours from NYC, and they all have their own draw – but the champagne tubs at Cove Haven and Pocono Palace are definitely a highlight." Note: single Pringles and platonic duos are also welcome!
Book or read more reviews about Coven Haven on Tripadvisor.
Sunset Inn & Suites
Location: Clinton, Illinois
One night starts around: $165
Nothing like finding Hawaii in a Midwestern cornfield. You'd never know it by the looks of the outside, but the rooms at this Clinton, Illinois hotel have seriously impressive themed rooms. "[It’s] Fantasy-focused and adults-only," says Bienert, with "rooms like the Space Odyssey Suite, Crystal Cave Suite, and Rainforest Suite. They are incredibly clean and their rooms are so detailed." 10 stars for the volcano tub alone.
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